For more than a century, California has sought to separate floodplains from rivers.  An elaborate array of levees and dams usually confine, divert or capture winter floods, supporting agriculture on rich floodplain soils and unreliably protecting urban growth in flood-prone areas.

Nowhere is this approach more evident than the Central Valley.  One of the world’s most complex flood management systems—involving thousands of miles of levees, several bypasses, and a dozen large, multi-purpose dams—supports the Valley’s urban and agricultural economy.  This system, conceived more than a century ago, has proven inadequate to meet flood management needs today and in the future (Hanak et al., 2011).  In addition, this flood management system has severely degraded the quality of riverine and floodplain habitat, with a host of unintended economic and environmental consequences.

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